24110 >> Draves: Good afternoon. My name is Amy... Howard Rheingold, who is joining us as part of the...

>> Draves: Good afternoon. My name is Amy Draves, and I'm here to introduce
Howard Rheingold, who is joining us as part of the Microsoft Research Visiting
Speakers Series. Howard is here today to discuss his book "Net Smart How to
Thrive Online." Like it or not knowing, how to make use of online tools without
being overloaded with too much information is an essential ingredient to personal
success in the 21st century.
The key to discover the way to use social media intelligently, humanely and
above all, mindfully, is critical. Howard Rheingold is an influential writer and
visiting lecturer at Stanford and U.C. Berkeley. He's authored several books
including "Tools for Thought: The Virtual Community" and "Smart Moms."
Please join me in welcoming him back to Microsoft.
>> Howard Rheingold: Hello. Thank you. I'm familiar with Microsoft Research,
so one of the great advantages of talking to really smart people is that I can
cover a lot more material real quickly. Essentially I'll do an hour-long
presentation. I'm going to leave out the beginners' explanation and I'm going to
do it in a half an hour. But I've also added some material particularly for you as
So if you are concerned that our use of digital media are making us as individuals
and our society shallow, then why not teach more people how to swim and we
can all explore the deep end of the pool. The way you use a search engine or
stream video from your phone or update your Facebook status matters to you
and to me and to everyone, because the way we use these media now are going
to influence the way they are used and misused for decades to come.
Very recently, a number of strong critiques of the pitfalls and the hidden costs of
our use of digital media have emerged. A few of these critiques actually based
on some empirical evidence. And I take technology criticism seriously. And I
think you probably will agree with me that we should all look critically at our own
media practices and what they may be costing us.
And while technology criticism is necessary, it is not sufficient. Knowing that
something is broken or that it may cost more than you thought it did is not the
same as telling you how to fix it.
So instead of asking questions like is Google making us stupid, or is Facebook
commoditizing our privacy or is Twitter chopping our attention into micro slices,
all good questions. I have been asking more broadly: How do you use social
media intelligently, humanely and, above all, mindfully?
I've drawn on my own experience of nearly 30 years online. I've looked at the
research literature. There's 500 footnotes in the book if you want to check out
any of my claims.
There should be links for you to go to the source material on that. And I've talked
to a lot of the social media leaders, people whose names you know, Linda Stone,
foremost among them. Jimmy Wales, Dana Boyd. Barry Wellman and Net
Smart is about what I've learned.
Before I get into the actual literacies, I want to speak specifically to issues that
concern you as toolmakers here. This is not the first time that new media
transformed the way we think, learn and communicate. A woman by the name of
Denise [inaudible] actually discovered the origins of writing. It started out as
accounting. It started out as a business practice, and it was [inaudible] to
communicate things other than business transactions.
And the fears of information overload are not new. They go at least as far back
as Ecclesiastes, the same kinds of things have been said whenever a new
communication medium makes a lot of new information available.
And there always seems to be a panic about information overload. And in the
past every time this has happened, innovators have reacted by creating new
ways of organizing information.
Too much handwritten text in the age of the alphabet led to schools, libraries and
scholars. And too much printed information led to alphatization indexes, subject
headings, taxonomies, reference books, Encyclopedias, authors, critics, editors,
so much we take for granted as part of the community of literacy was invented in
fact to deal with the information overload that the print revolution enabled.
I go back to Doug Englebart, and I noticed in the hallway references to Butler
Lampson, a lot of people who were involved in creating personal computers and
digital networks, go back to Doug Englebart's original 1962 paper.
I'm sure some of you have read it. If you have not read it and you work at
Microsoft Research you should go read it. It's called augmenting human intellect.
Wrote it in 1962. And one of the things he wrote in that paper was about humans
using language, artifacts, methodology and training. And, of course, we've seen
the artifacts evolve billions of fold.
He made this famous 1968 mother of all demos on a computer that probably had
about 8 K of RAM. So today tools, literacies, and networks are uber [inaudible]
starting with Moore's law, the capacity to amplify technically has led to the ability,
of course, to amplify our intellect and the interconnection of our personal mind
amplifiers into networks have led to where we are today.
And that evolution certainly has not stopped. Today's toolmakers would do well
to look at emerging literacies. So that's what I want to talk about. Five literacies
in particular, starting with attention.
Okay. I'm not playing this so I'm going to go on. Attention, participation,
collaboration, crap detection, and network awareness.
So attention, of course, is the foundation of thinking and communicating. And I
got interested in this in particular when I was in a classroom and noticing that
many of the students were looking at their computers instead of me.
Some of them were checking things out to make sure I knew what I was talking
about. Some of them were asking each other questions. Some of them were
undoubtedly Facebooking or on World of War Craft. I realized they didn't know
what it looked like from where I stood. So with their permission I took a little
video of them from the front of the classroom. And at the back of the classroom I
had another camera.
And look at the student's screen here. Even though I took this video of them, I
put it on YouTube, I projected it on the screen in front of the classroom, he
decided he wanted to watch it on his computer while I was projecting it. I have
no idea why.
Then he took a look at my personal website, and then this all happened within
not too many seconds, he went back to his e-mail. So the interesting thing about
this student is that he was a very rare A plus student. Years go by without an A
I'm sure if I had stopped him and said: What am I talking about? He would have
been able to tell me. So research on multi-tasking, Cliff Ness's work at Stanford
is often cited, has indicated pretty strongly that for 95 percent of people who think
they are getting things done more effectively while they are multi-tasking, they
are actually degrading their performance on the individual tasks.
I think this guy must be one of those four or 5 percent who are able to do it. And
the question is was he just born this way, the way some people can run faster or
jump higher, or did he learn something?
And if so, what did he learn and can others learn it as well? So when working
with my students, thinking about this myself, talking to people like Linda Stone
and Cliff Nass, I came to the conclusion that the most important lesson is
If that sounds a little too spiritual for you, metacognition is another word for it.
And Wikipedia has really good entry on metacognition. It simply means being
aware of how you are deploying your attention.
And the meditation practices that go back thousands of years are really based
on, start with simply becoming aware of what's going through your mind.
So with my students, do a number of attention probes in the classroom. For
example, ringing a chime at random intervals, and then people will write on a
yellow sticky what they're thinking, if it's related to what we're talking about. On
an orange sticky they'll write what they're thinking about. If it's tangentially
related, and on a red sticky if it has nothing to do with the discussion at the
moment all anonymously and we all put them up on the whiteboard and we get a
sense of what's happening.
We do a number of these attention probes every time we meet. And the
objective here is to begin to develop an awareness of where our attention is. Not
only when we're online but when we're walking down the street.
I'm sure many of you saw the video from the security camera in the mall of the
young woman who walked into the fountain while texting. The Pugh Internet
Survey claims that through scientific survey one in six Americans have bumped
into something while looking at their phone, while texting.
When that mindfulness is directed towards the information that we are bringing in
through digital media, I call it info tension. And when I talk about training info
tension, part of it is on the cognitive side and part of it is on the tools side.
So we all have to make very rapid decisions about what we're going to pay
attention to online. Am I going to pay attention to that little badge that says I've
got new e-mail, or am I going to wait until later? Am I going to click on that link in
a tweet. Am I going to go look at the latest viral video, or am I going to be doing
something else?
The objective of training this is to begin making these decisions more
consciously. And after becoming more deliberate about it, becoming more
deliberate and faster, sometimes you want to pay attention to something.
Sometimes you want to open a tab and pay attention to it later. Sometimes you
just want to tag it and bookmark it because it's something that interests you and
you don't know whether you're even going to look at it this week.
So part of the training has to do with matching your attention to your tool set.
Matching your attentional strategy to your tool set. I'll show you a screen of that
in a minute.
The spatial arrangement of information online and the way we organize our
priorities can be synced, and of course priorities are up to you. Nobody else
really can tell you what your priority is for today.
You know what you need to get accomplished. So at the beginning of the day I
instruct people, and I myself write down two or three goals for the day. I use the
old right brain pen and paper and I put it on the corner of my desk so that every
once in a while accidentally it will come to my attention.
And when it is, I simply ask myself: Where is my attention right now? And do I
need to bring it back to the task. Very similar to meditation on the breath, where
you simply observe your breath and when your mind wanders, you just go back
to observing your breath.
I took a leaf from professor BJ Fog at Stanford who has been studying how to
cultivate habits. And he has a simple three-part plan which is start small, only
talks about 20 seconds to write down a couple of goals. Find a place for it. I do
it at the beginning of the day. I put it on my desktop. And repeat. And you've
got a habit.
So I've used all of the RSS readers, and I've settled on Net Vibes because it
gives me three levels of abstraction. I can have different dashboards for entirely
different subjects. And on the dashboard it's got a second level of abstraction,
which are the tabs, which are dragable and dropable, and then it's got the feeds
which are also dragable and dropable.
So I can put the highest priority for today, according to what my priorities are, on
the left, because we're accustomed to reading from left to right and top to bottom,
and I can put the feeds that are updated the most often at the top.
So there are days when I may just look at what's under the left-most tab and the
days when I may look at all of them. Of course, the advantage of RSS readers is
you can very quickly scan the headlines and decide whether you want to pay
more attention to it later.
This is what I mean by making my goals visible daily. So that's six words. Three
goals. Probably took me ten seconds to write. So in the book I get into a lot of
detail, and I scaffold it with a lot of empirical research that I found. So today I just
want to touch upon some of the highlights of attention.
Attention can be trained. There's a lot of good neuroscience about this.
Although, of course, that's what meditative disciplines have claimed for centuries.
Breathe. So I learned this from Linda Stone. I assume you all know who I'm
talking about when I say Linda Stone, do you not? Go look her up. She was
associated with Microsoft Research when it was founded.
She's a retired emeritus employee. And she's responsible for me being here
today. And she's got an interesting blog on Huffington Post, she gets into these
issues. But she noticed she was holding her breath while doing her e-mail.
She started asking her friends. And it turns out if you notice, you look for it you
will notice that there are times when you hold your breath while you're doing your
e-mail. And this is connected to the fight or flight response, which was very
useful to our ancestors. You're walking through the Savannah. All kinds of
predators around and you hear a noise. It's probably a good idea for you to stop
and hold your breath, and at the same time your adrenalin starts pumping. Your
endocrine system starts to get ready for fight or flight. This is very good if you
want to survive in a crisis situation.
It is have erosive effects on your health if you do it often. And of course when
you're sitting at your desk and you're looking at your screen, you're not being
pursued by a saber tooth anything 500 times a day.
So every once in a while, just stop and take a breath. Attention to intention is
how the mind changes the brain. Although this sounds a little woowoo it really is
how the neuroscience works.
So Donald Hebbs, principal that nerves, neurons that fire together, wire together,
it's a generalization. And when you're having a particular thought or holding a
particular image, there are particular neural networks that fire at that time.
And the more you do that, the more you strengthen the connections between
those neurons, the more you strengthen that network by holding the intention of
noticing where your attention is. You are changing your brain.
That is really the principle behind how meditation works and it's been verified.
There's a lot of great recent books on the neural science of this.
So let's talk about critical consumption. I use a less polite term that I got from
Hemmingway who said that every good journalist needs to have a good internal
crap detector. And I started on this when my daughter, who is now grown, was in
middle school. This was back when search engines had names like Alta Vista
and Info Seek, and I told her when she started using them for her papers that you
can go to the library and get a book out and you can disagree with the book and
the book's opinions might be wrong, but you can be pretty sure that there was an
author, an editor and a publisher who checked factual claims in that.
If you go online and you put aquarian, you can get the answer to any question
within a couple of seconds. It's up to you to determine whether that's good
information, bad information, disinformation or misinformation.
So I sat her down and I asked her to do a search on Martin Luther King, Jr. is
anybody know about this site? Martin Luther King, A True Historical
Examination. It's martinlutherking.org. So you click on that and it looks like it's a
website about the civil rights leader. If you look a little more closely at the
articles, it has actually a pretty dim view of Reverend King. So there is an author
to this.
My daughter said how can I tell whether this is for real. I said search on that
author. Searching on that author was quite revealing. And she said who is the
author of the website. We couldn't find that.
So I told her to take a look at WHOIS, simple utility that enables anybody to put
in a URL and find out who is the legally responsible for that website.
You put in martinlutherking.org, and it turns out that the person responsible for it
is Don Black at stormfront.org. So you do a search on stormfront.org, and it
turns out that it's a white nationalist and supremist neo-Nazi Internet forum. It
was what was known as a cloaked website. This has been used as an example
so many times recently they have actually come out of the closet about it and
they put Storm Front on the front page of it.
But when I first showed it to my daughter, it was cloaked. This bun was very
scary the first time I found it because it did not offer the clues that it now offers
that it is a hoax. And considering that there are people who get pregnant
because they aren't entirely clear on where babies come from, I think it's kind of
scary, although it's funny.
It asks you to fill in your name and press the start test button. So I put in the
name Joe. I started the pregnancy test, and a flash animation came up that said
sit still while we scan you.
And then pregnancy detected. Congratulations, Joe, you're with child. So I
noticed that they've got real ads over on this side. So I think most people can tell
that it's a joke.
But maybe not. I couldn't help clicking on the next one. View My Baby. It's a
girl. Okay. One more click. Who's the daddy. Turns out to be Fabio. You can
actually pick another daddy.
By this time I think most people will know that this is not for real. I have actually
a collection of these sites. Here's one that looks legit. Looks like a pretty good
This is a primate, a mandrel, who has been taught to understand English, can
communicate with you through a keyboard. Totally bogus.
The Pacific northwest tree octopus, an endangered nonexistent species. It's kind
of funny. If you're a sixth grader, who knows. So here I've got a collection of
these under crap detection. So, again, I get into a lot of detail about this,
because I think it's all important.
We can't and shouldn't police what people put online. If that was possible, we
wouldn't have the Web that we have today. What we can do is enable people to
think a little bit more effectively about the information that they find.
And when you're talking about medical information, who has not Googled their
symptoms or their disease when they have a diagnosis could be fatal.
When you're talking about the political sphere, there's a lot of bad information out
there of various kinds. As I told my daughter, I urge my readers to think like a
detective and try to put clues together.
Don't accept -- detective doesn't accept anything at the beginning. And then
additively begins accepting things. Search to learn. Sometimes you just want to
find out where the nearest pizza place is. But if you're a student and you're using
search to learn about a subject, you shouldn't stop with the first page of results.
You shouldn't use one search engine and you shouldn't stop with the first search.
You should look at the snippets that you get to refine your search.
Look for authors. If you can find them. If you don't, I would turn the credibility
meter down. And search on their names. And triangulate what journalists do is
to try to find three sources.
So when I saw a rumor on Twitter that Egypt had shut down its Internet that
came under the category of interesting, if true. But I wasn't going to pass that
rumor along until I found three sources.
I put out a query for information. Someone told me that another person that I
know to be legitimately in touch with activists in the Middle East was talking to
someone in Egypt on the telephone and said that it was true. So that was a point
I took the original rumor as one point. I still needed another one, and someone
reminded me that I could use ping to find out if sites in Egypt were up. And it
turned out that all the ones I tried were down. So I passed that rumor along.
Turned out to be true.
However, in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, there was a
rumor on Twitter, that if you texted a certain number, it would contribute money to
sending medical personnel to Haiti.
Turned out to be a cruel hoax and the people who passed that rumor along were
sorry that they did. They're sorry that they didn't triangulate it later.
And recently Eli Pariser has written the Internet bubble about how search
engines personalize. And a few years ago Cass Sunstein now at the White
House wrote about the daily we, about the fear that now that people can bundle
their own newspapers, they can get their own sources online, people are paying
more and more attention to information that they agree with.
So my solution to this is to find people whose intellect and honesty I respect but
whose opinions I disagree with and pay attention to them. If nobody in your
network annoys you, you are in an echo chamber.
So participation. This is a Texas audience here. This is the Hook 'Em Horns
sign. We wouldn't be talking about digital media or digital networks without
participation. I just want to point out just a few examples. A few years ago
Warner Brothers attorneys tried to shut down a Harry Potter fan site. And
Heather Lauver organized a worldwide boycott that backed those attorneys off
within a couple of days fast enough that they had not learned that she was 16
years old.
Bev Harris, a previously obscure blogger who was obsessed with Diebold's
voting machines. Diebold makes the voting machines that are used in a lot of
elections, and their source code they have kept secret. And she found it online in
an unprotected site. So she spread it around. And although she was an obscure
blogger, it went up the food chain and a lot of people knew about it. Swarthmore
students put it on a server at Swarthmore. Diebold sued them, and the federal
court found for the students in that case.
Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who was one of the many young activists
who used Facebook in the Arab Spring, and of course Mark Zuckerberg and the
Google twins, these people were all in their teens or early 20s.
I emphasize their youth to simply emphasize the power of knowing how to
participate online. The power of knowing how to create a website to blog, to
advocate, use a wiki to organize.
So I like this power law of participation that Ross Mayfield used to plot the low
threshold with the tool against high threshold and low engagement with high
People can start very low on the threshold of the tool or the engagement. They
can read. They can favorite it. They can tag, like or comment or move all the
way up to creating collaborative intelligence of quite sophisticated types that I'll
talk about.
So there's a lot of different kinds of curation tools, and curation is one of the
forms of participation that's the easiest for people to create a collective
intelligence by filtering the best stuff for each other.
It's one thing to detect crap but it's another issue to find the best stuff. If you're
an expert on a particular topic, you're going to have to look through your
information overload and reduce that to useful knowledge. In open source world
they call it scratching an itch. If a new printer comes out on the market and
there's not a driver for it, then if you like the driver for that, it pays for you to put
that in the public code base. Not only are you signalling you're someone who is
cooperative, who deserves to be cooperated with later, but you're also enlisting a
team of others to help you when they change that printer and you need to
change the driver.
We all have to tag and bookmark those things that we can't easily search for
anyway. And the real genius of social bookmarking is that there's no additional
cost, either financial or in terms of your effort, to make your choices public.
And in the aggregate, those choices become a valuable public resource. You
want to gain a reputation as an expert on a topic. Well, people who are
interested in that topic will know very quickly if you know what you're talking
And if you do, they're going to start paying regular attention to you and they're
going to spread the word. In fact, curation is kind of a personal SEO in the sense
that you are sending out signals whether you're interested in a particular breed of
cat or a particular kind of programming language. People who are looking for
that are going to find you.
And if they find you and you know what you're talking about they may collaborate
with you, they may give you information that could be useful to you.
So now we're seeing a lot of different platforms like colorrah and stack overflow
that enable people to share knowledge to ask questions to give answers as a
form of participation. And again individual acts of self-interest adding up to
important public good.
In the aggregate, Henry Jenkins believes that participation by more people online
leads to a participatory culture. A person who thinks of herself as the passive
consumer of culture created by others has a different sense of agency, a different
sense of herself as a citizen from one who considers herself, whatever small
way, to be a contributor to digital culture.
There are a Jillion ways to participate online and new ones emerging every day.
So, again, just the highlights here. Don't just consume. Create. Architecture of
participation was a term that Tim O'Riley came up with to show the architecture
of a lot of online media enables people to make self-interested acts that add up
to public goods.
One of the most clever architectures of participation was Napster. When people
were downloading music from other users, by default the folder on their desktop
where they downloaded music to was open to other Napster users to download
music from.
So in that sense this was a sense in which people provision the resource that
they consume while they're consuming it. Cory Doctorow called this cheap who
shit grass, and I think architectures of participation are something that could be of
value to you as tool makers.
Curation is a lightweight form of collective intelligence. And if you're going to
participate, take a few minutes to figure out what the local customs are, what are
the norms and boundaries of the local culture and crap detect thy self before
broadcasting questionable information. Curation is not just a matter of making
choices it's also a matter of maintaining your reputation for making excellent
So collaboration, ultimately the most powerful thing that digital media and
networks provide. It's not just individual empowerment amplification of your
ability to think and communicate, it's the enabling of people to do things together
in ways that they have not been able to do things before.
So Smart Moms ten years ago when I spoke in this room, I talked about the
combination of the mobile phone, personal computer and the Internet, lowering
the threshold for collective action.
Of course, we're seeing that everywhere from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall
Street. When I spoke in Chilé they said the Penguin Revolution. So public
school students in Chilé wear uniforms that are black and gray so they call
themselves penguins. The education is not funded very well in Chilé, so they
decided not only were they going to walk out of their classes, they chained the
schools shut, and induced 700,000 Chilean citizens to join them in the streets.
There's a dialogue about education in that country that continues to this day.
And the Minister of Education resigned that night. Virtual communities, I first
wrote about this in 1987 in my book the same name was 1992.
Whether you are playing casual games or you are a cancer patient, you are
probably connected to other people in other parts of the world who provide you
with information and support on a daily basis.
Don't tell me that a virtual community is not a real community, if you haven't been
in one of those situations. Everybody here know about Seti At Home? Couple of
people. So Seti searched for extraterrestrial intelligence. They sent down
signals from outerspace. They looked for patterns in them. American taxpayers
don't want to pay for the intense computation involved. So they created a screen
saver which they distributed. When your laptop, desktop computer, goes to
sleep the screen saver wakes up, downloads some of this data, runs a pattern
recognition algorithm on it, sends the result back to headquarters.
What's interesting about this is not messages from little purple people. So far
they haven't said they found any. It was that they amassed 20 teraflops of I don't
have to explain that to you. 20 teraflops of computing power from a couple of
million volunteers. And this was years ago.
Now we've got folding at home. If you go to folding.stanford.edu, you can help
biochemists understand how protein molecules fold. There's a game to do it
called Fold It. If you understand how a protein molecule folds, you can
understand more about the immune system and more about creating new
medicines, modeling weather.
In just a few years we're going to have billions of people walking around with
super computers in their pockets, linked at greater than what we consider to be
broadband speeds. What kinds of computation and computational tasks will
people be able to tackle then together that they can't tackle today? Jim Gray -does anybody here know of Jim Gray? So I will just quickly repeat this story.
Jim Gray was computer scientist for Microsoft Research, was he not? And he
took his boat out in San Francisco Bay one day. Did not come back that night.
So his friends in Google and NASA got pictures, his friends, of that area, 3500
square miles.
Friends at Microsoft and Amazon cut those into half a million images and made
them available on Mechanical Turk and thousands of volunteers searched
through these images. They did not find Jim Gray but they put this ad hoc
system together, literally within hours of him not coming back.
So crowd sourcing we usually think of something that businesses do, and we're
going to see more and more businesses do it. But it's not the only application of
crowd sourcing now we're seeing crowd funding the U.S. Congress has now
made crowd funding of start-ups SEC-compliant up to $2 million.
Collaborative consumption. We're seeing everything from people finding a place
to stay with air B and B to Zip Car, all kinds of ways that people are able to share
resources that previously were not shareable because of the technology.
And collective intelligence, who would have believed the last time I was here that
we would see millions of articles in something like 200 languages created strictly
by volunteers by this point.
And more and more this is something that I'm very excited about. It's
cooperative learning. Nowadays if you want to learn something, you can
probably go to YouTube. Everything from configuring a new computer
installation to how do you fly fish. Somebody has made a YouTube about it.
More and more people are using the resources available online not just the
sources of information, but the communication platforms to learn things together.
You no longer have to go to a school. There are all kinds of platforms that have
emerged for people to teach and learn from each other and with each other.
So we have been told a story at least since Darwin's time that competition is the
overwhelming aspect of everything from biology to business.
But recent discoveries in a dozen different fields indicate that we have to shrink
that picture of competition as being all powerful to make room for what we now
understand about cooperative arrangements and complex independencies.
I've got a Ted Talk on that if you want to hear more about that. Actions climb the
curve of engagement with collaboration, just as it is with participation. You can
start out small and you can end up big.
There are a wide variety of ways to collaborate. Ways to participate. Enable
self-election. So the great power of Wikipedia is there's no central authority,
assigning someone to write on a local school district or certain species of ant.
The person who considers themselves knowledgeable about that topic self-elects
to do that. And you eliminate the cost of management. Not everything can be
done by self-election. But certainly you know that open source software is done
largely by self-election.
We don't really know the limits of social production. Not everything can be
produced that way. But we don't know what else might be.
So survey on why people contribute to open source code has revealed that
sticking to Microsoft is only about the fifth priority. The first priority is learning
how to code.
The second priority is enhancing reputation. But also meeting others and adding
to a public good. And some research seems to indicate that having a
homogenous community of people who are motivated either by altruism or by
financial incentives is not as powerful as having a mixture of motives in that
community. And this is a light motif diversity that I'll come back to.
Casual conversation builds trust. Social capital, the ability for groups of people to
do things together outside of formal structures like laws and contracts comes
from networks of trust and norms of reciprocity. It's why when you meet
someone you don't know, you talk about sports or the weather, until you can get
to trust them a little bit to disclose more.
If you've got an online forum and people are supposed to be exchanging
engineering information and instead they're talking about brewing beer or their
sports team, don't shut that down.
So the fifth literacy that I write about in the book is network awareness or network
know how. This consists of a lot of little pieces of knowledge. It's not really
rocket science. It's not even learning the multiplication tables.
But it comes from different fields that have somewhat obscured these as part of
their disciplinary jargon. So network science has emerged recently. Probably
many of you are aware of the research that has been done on small worlds, the
power law, the long tail, the structure of networks can influence the behavior of
individuals in those networks.
Knowing something about that can enable individuals who are not scientists to
function more effectively. Sociologists have talked about preservation of self,
what I know about me and what you have figured about me whether I want you to
know that or not, identity. Something now called networked individualism,
instead of the online community being the center that connects people with
shared interests, we're all the center of our own social networks.
We all carry them in our pockets and we summon them when we need them.
Reputation, all of these old ideas take on new meanings online.
And the person who understands what only social scientists did about social
capital, the importance of bridging capital, bonding capital and reciprocity, will be
a more effective person. I'm trying to enable individuals to gain more power,
more strategic advantage for themselves but also to enable them by their actions
to improve the quality of the comments for all of us.
Now social networks certainly preceded the online world. In fact, arguably we
are humans because of our capacity to socialize.
They take on an entirely new meaning online. And old ideas like strong ties and
weak ties take on a very different meaning now that technology enables us to
maintain relationships that we wouldn't have been able to maintain before.
And now in the age of social media and viral media we're beginning to see some
overarching ideas such as Manuel Castelle's claim we're not really in an
information society. We are in a network society. And networks are the structure
of power in the world today.
And the power of networked publics that we are seeing the American political
system change in unpredictable ways because of the way people are taking
advantage of network publics.
And of course it's the connection between all of these. Seeing how they are
connected to each other that is really the most empowering knowledge.
So network smarts. Networks have structures that influence the way individuals
and groups behave. A portfolio of both strong and weak ties is useful, both to
individuals and the networked society. If your house burns down, you're probably
going to stay with somebody with whom you have a strong tie.
If you're going to find a mate or a job, it's probably going to come through your
network of weak ties. Position in social networks matter. For example, centrality,
I learned that from Mark Smith previously of Microsoft Research.
You do a social network analysis of an individual, it turns out that the number of
people and networks who have to go through that person to get to each other
can be more important to that person than the number of contacts, number of
nodes in their network. Diverse networks are collectively smarter. Tom Sloan at
the Sloan School at MIT has started the Center for Collective Intelligence to do
empirical research on collective intelligence.
So collective intelligence you can take a group of people and you can measure
the accuracy of their decisions in a way that gives you something that's the
equivalent of an individual IQ for that group. And you can measure them in a
number of different situations.
He's found that if you take a network of experts about a topic and a network that
includes people who have no knowledge or little knowledge of that topic, they will
come up collectively with better decisions than a group that is only experts.
And also interestingly, one of their findings which has been replicated but not
explained is that including women in networks, raises their collective IQ.
People who can bridge networks build what sociologist Ronald Bert called
structural holds stand to benefit. In fact, he wrote a really interesting paper on
where do good ideas come from. In which he studied the Ratheon Company and
looked at where innovation came from and it came from the people who
connected networks.
Pay It Forward, Barry Wellman's research at the University of Toronto, has
indicated pretty strongly that doing favors for others online is the strongest
predictor of whether you will receive favors from others.
So how can Microsoft help us grow smarter and more mindful of how we use
attention, info tension, crap detection, collaboration and network awareness.
That's what I'd like to leave you with today.
The people here in this room, the people who are watching through video, can
help tools, skills and brains work together mindfully. The technologies and the
media have not stopped multiplying. They've gone into hyperdrive.
If you want to understand where we're going, I urge you to not just keep up with
the technologies, but keep up with the literacies.
So thank you for significant portion of your attention. This is the fewest number
of laptops I've seen open in a room in a while. And we have some time for
>>: The online audience. You touched on it a little bit. So he says we know that
participation leads to more knowledge, how can we get beginners people who
don't have the skill set to participate because they might be intimidated to add
something [inaudible] they don't have as much.
>> Howard Rheingold: Well, I think part of that is in the tool and part of that is
social. So any online community that wants to grow and diversify needs to be
welcoming to newcomers. So I think that's a social norm that needs to be
But also I think tools with very low thresholds. So I hope someone here is
working on curation tools. There's another curation tool start-up every day. I
don't think we have plumbed the depths of how to enable people to use, to
harvest what they're doing anyway in a way that is useful to others.
How can we make that really, really simple? So Pinterest what people are
talking a lot about these days. That's simple. You see something you like and
you pin it.
As I noted, starting with something simple leads to more complex collaboration.
So I'd say the next design principle is if you can start simple, how can you lead
somebody to the next step?
I know that's something that Microsoft has thought about for years, sometimes
successfully, sometimes not so successfully. There was the famous paperclip
that didn't work. But it was an effort to do that.
It's not easy when you're dealing with people's attention. But I think that that's a
question that has not been adequately answered and still needs to be addressed.
>>: Very small thing, but did I understand you to say that you spoke in this room
about ten years ago?
>> Howard Rheingold: I don't know whether it was in this room but it was at
Microsoft Research. In fact, it wasn't in this room it seemed like it had a desk in
the center.
>>: That was my question because it didn't exist ten years ago.
>> Howard Rheingold: But I think it was this building. Was it this building?
>>: Across the street.
>> Howard Rheingold: I remember I had lunch there and visited with some
people and then we spoke in a room in which there was a small number of
people and I was told that there were a larger number of people watching it on
the desktops.
Thank you. Excellent crap detection. [laughter].
>>: Another online question is: How could productivity tools emerge in years to
>> Howard Rheingold: How will what?
>>: Productivity tools.
>> Howard Rheingold: Productivity tools. Boy, the question there is how do you
deal with the already saturated. So I live in fear of upgrading anything, because
I'm going to have to learn the new way to do it.
And, you know, my friend Ming Lee, who works in the Lync group here forced me
to upgrade my office. And the new PowerPoint -- I love the new PowerPoint. It
really makes it easy to do things that used to be difficult to do.
And somebody must have sat with a user who said how do I size an image?
Can't I just drag an image on to the desktop?
So I think we are all, even the people who are enthusiastic, we are overwhelmed
with the tools that we have. And you have great tools. I use your tools. I live in
fear of learning the next level of complexity.
So I think how do you reduce that level of fear I think is really important, because
once you get -- and also obviously paying attention to what is confusing to users
or what would be more effective for users.
I'm not telling you anything that you don't already know in that regard. But I'm
telling you as an enthusiastic user of your products that, A, I'm scared of them
becoming more complex. And, B, I've been reassured using the latest rev that
it's easy to learn a new way to do things.
Learning a new way to do things is hard when you're doing half a dozen. So
making presentations. You're writing documents. It's doing calculations. You've
got ways to do it. Why bother changing it?
So your value proposition has to be the time you save by learning this new thing
is going to be immediately more valuable than the time you take to learn a new
way of doing it. Yes?
>>: Just about digital literacy in general. I mean, there's some interesting
projects around the Seattle area. We're getting this into the schools. But I'm
wondering what experience you have, at what age people -- seems like it's a skill
that kids should get at an early age.
I have kids. I know they do a lot of the research online now. They don't just -- it's
not natural or intuitive necessarily how to detect when something's reliable or not.
>> Howard Rheingold: Well, I'll say that we have an institution in our society that
is somewhat endangered that ought to be strengthened and that is the librarian.
The librarian ought to be the person to do this. And I think you know you're eight
or nine years old, you oughta learn the basics of at least the fact that there is no
authority in the text, whether you ask somebody else or you find out for yourself,
you have the responsibility for judging that.
I think they need to learn that, if not learn all the complexities of how to do that
pretty young. I've made a syllabus out of the book that I made available for
college instructors anywhere.
I've also made a version of it that I'm inviting high school teachers to modify.
There's a lot of fear out there. There are laws that prevent some counties and I
think even some states for enabling access to the Internet without very strong
filters on them, in many states.
This is somewhat tangential, but there's been a lot of moral panic. Parents are
afraid that their kids are going to meet predators online. And there's a study
done by Sonja Livingston, London School of Economics of a million children in
the UK of which -- I can't tell you how many thousands of them were molested
but less than a dozen were from people they met online. The rest were from
relatives or neighbors or people who are well known.
So if you're concerned about that, the Internet's not the place to look for it. The
biggest danger is letting your kids online without knowing how to determine the
good information from the bad information.
So I think the message ought to be you ought to sit down with your kids and at
least explain to them that things are changing very rapidly. It's not been the way
they've been for thousands of years and you're going to have to learn some new
skills. Even if you as a parent may not have those skills, I think it's important to
tell them that.
I would love to see this -- some elements of this in the grade school. And I've
collected lots of instances, and I've written a blog post for dmlcentral.net about
teachers and librarians who have third graders blogging. So, of course, you've
got to moderate the comments, but a third grader who writes a little paper, you
know, a few sentences and gets a gold star, what's the difference between that
and having someone in Sweden make intelligent comment about what you've
Your sense of agency, I think, is more compatible with the way the world is going
to be when you grow up than it is teaching in the old way.
So I made a decision myself that I don't know how to change the education
system. I'm very interested in making the tools and methods available for
teachers who want to try.
>>: So do you see this as basically a disruptive technology that we need to adapt
to? I know Heidegger in the 20s talked about deseverance from the telephone.
Seems like we pretend they're nearby, but they're actually very far away. So is
there an aspect that this is an alienating thing, that we are reacting to as older
folks that maybe young people would just take naturally, or is this parallel with
previous history as well?
>> Howard Rheingold: That's a deep question. Let's take the young people part
first. I really started thinking about this stuff when I faced a college classroom.
And I had thought that the students were going to be like my daughter, who is
college aged at that time or be digital natives that you hear so much about. In
fact, places like Stanford and Berkeley, heart of Silicon Valley, you would not -- I
was surprised to see the blank looks when I said, okay, you're going to start
blogging and start editing the wiki. Certainly in every class I teach there are
students who know more than I do. And I seek them out and try to learn from
But I no longer make the assumption that people know the basics. Yes, they can
text with one hand behind their back. Yes, they Facebook compulsively. That is
not mean that they know how to use a blog to advocate. They have no idea what
RSS is. They don't know that Wikipedia can be edited with one click. They don't
know how to use a wiki themselves.
So I think that these are -- you know, we don't stop with teaching kids how to
read and write. Why send them any further than the eighth grade? They still
need to learn how to construct an argument, how to write a well-sourced paper.
There's a whole rhetoric that people go to high school for, much less college. So
I think that we've got a literacy that's no less sophisticated.
But you're asking the deeper question. I think we are humans because we grasp
the world. Heidegger said that and part of that is that we view the world as he
called it a standing reserve.
It's just ready for us to make it into something. And of course there are
downsides to that and we are seeing the downsides to that. We're threatening
our own existence by our unawareness of what making things by the billions can
I don't know the answer to it. But I think, again, like the book, that becoming
aware of the issue is really important. And becoming aware of the fact that
people invent particular technologies, not just every tool, but communication
tools, alphabets, telephones, Internets, they change the way we think and they
change the way our societies work. We are a self-reprogramming organism.
That's what changes us from all of the other primates. We learn by imitation. No
other primate will look at where I'm pointing and figure out what I want them to
Baby humans look at where their mothers are paying attention very soon. So we
are constantly learning from each other and we're constantly learning through the
symbolic technologies that we create to communicate with each other. At least
we ought to know that we are changing our brains and that we have some choice
about it. And there's only -- we're only beginning to understand scientifically how
that works.
>>: Thank you so much.
>> Howard Rheingold: You're welcome.